Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A New Rhythm

Well hello there! It's been a while. I nearly forgot I had a blog.

We've been busy with a big life-style change this month, namely home school.

During the great January Reality Check Will and I realized we had to say good-bye to our beloved Wayside or else go to the poor house.

Wayside Academy is a beautiful independent school where our children were receiving a Montessori/Charlotte Mason-style education, along with sacred music, Mass and the blessed sacrament, an incredible nature study program, amazingly dedicated teachers...It was a real gift. We are so sad to leave, sad to not be part of the daily community of Wayside. We miss our friends and teachers.

This isn't the place to ramble about why we chose home school, but let's just say it was the only option.

Having been home schooled myself, it's familiar territory. It is very attractive to me philosophically.

Still, I was terrified. To me, home school is the door to complete chaos in my personal life. I feared it would bring to the surface all my worst habits: lack of self-discipline, lack of routine, pathological irritability with my nearest and dearest. I feared that I would be a frazzled, coffee addicted, exhausted, house-bound housewife, desperate to get away from her own offspring. Not exactly educator-material.

Still, what can you do? Public school is not an option for us. Wayside is no longer in our budget. 

I rolled up my sleeves and marched in, resolved to make it work.

Here's what we've discovered in the past three weeks:

Instead of chaos, home schooling enabled us to find our rhythm—the natural rhythm that makes our family work.

Hugh "reading" to Matthias 

A few small changes made all the difference—and yes, they require self-discipline, but the reward is peaceful children, a peaceful mama.

-We make the beds and get completely dressed before coming downstairs in the morning.

-I chucked the coffee. No need for stimulants when we can take the day slow, nap when we need to, design each day to suit our needs.

-Involved the children in meal prep and meal cleanup. No more rushing out the door with oatmeal all over the table. No more coming in the door at four-thirty PM with four hungry, whiny kids and no idea what to make for supper. Food is a major part of family life and I think it's important for each member to pitch in. The boys are learning little skills and responsibilities. (And man, I do appreciate the help!)

-A daily siesta. Yes, we do need a break from each other. All of us. To preserve charity. Everyone finds a different room (or at least a different bed) and a book or two, and chills out for an hour. No talking allowed. After siesta, harmony is usually restored between brothers. Batteries are recharged for the rest of the day's activities.

Siesta time for babes. Doesn't that look tranquil? (You have no idea what's going on outside the frame!)

-Began reading—fun reading—at every opportunity: Paddington Bear, the House at Pooh Corner, Farmer Boy, Narnia (again! and again!), the complete corpus of Beatrix Potter, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and untold numbers of picture books. It is so much fun and I think, though I'm not sure, that everyone's literacy has advanced...

-Discovered that the actual "work" of educating, whether sitting around the table with workbooks, or discussing a thermometer, or measuring dry ingredients, or making play dough elephants, is absolutely delicious. There is no joy on earth like seeing your child learn, watching him take in the world around 
him and then create something in return.

I won't tell you about laundry. Or toothpaste on the mirror. Or any of those things. If you have any experience with homeschool you already know all about the housework fiasco. But I'll tell you about the fun stuff.

the little stove is made out of a wooden bread box— by my brilliant and creative friend Cassidy.
I try to cover two lessons per morning—a language and a math. Afternoons are for play and projects.

-Our basic curriculum:
   -laying down the foundation of future learning with the toddler: beading, building, drawing, pouring, puzzles and "cooking" on his little stove— (I'll tell you more about that later.....)

   -alphabets and counting with the four-year old.

   -reading and math facts with the six year old.

Home schooling means having as much time as we want for art!

- I let go of my need to measure their progress against an artificial standard. (I would call our method "un-schooling" except that I know myself too well. "Un-schooling," would mean "not learning to read while mama sits on the floor and knits". I need some academic aspirations, and a schedule—no, not a schedule, but a rhythm, or it all goes to pot. )

What home schooling means to us, is that reading can begin when my child is ready, not when the Ontario syllabus says he must. He is not "behind" or "ahead". He's exactly where he should be according to his ability and interest. 

Since we started home schooling, Willie jumped the big hurdle of discovering that reading is not just a sadistic exercise invented by his mother, but the way to get a story when mama's too busy to read aloud; also, writing is not a workbook exercise but a way to create stories and make lists of things he wants to buy and write messages for papa. A useful tool.

For Hugh, on the other hand, the alphabet is completely random, unrelated to anything in the universe. He's not interested. But he can listen to really great literature all day long. He's also got piles of poetry memorized. The seeds of literacy have been planted.

Matthias will be writing novels, soon.

art table

In short, I see my boys happy, busy, interested in everything. It feels right.

There have been days when we chucked it all in favour of a craft. There have been sick days when I just lay around nursing the baby and reading Peter Rabbit. There have been days when Willie has been consumed with zeal for math and we did nothing else. (Fewer of those days, of course). There have been snow days (finally!) which call for outdoor play while the sun shines.

The house looking all pretty and half-painted

Coming home exhausted from a hunting trip. (Having caught a bear)


But the basic rhythm is there, and it's brought peace to our home. Sad as we are to say goodbye to the old, we welcome the new with great confidence.


  1. Oh Mary, what a lovely, lovely, lovely post. I feel like I could have written it myself because it speaks of our days so much. It is crazy, fun, exhausting and wonderful. And the slowness of the rhythm of being home really seems to work for the little ones I find. They seem to thrive.

    I can't wait to talk more soon! You're on my heart.

  2. Beautiful Mary..
    Loved your thoughts. Homeschooling is the best, I have no regrets.

    God Bless

  3. Hey Mary,
    Nice blog! Sorry to hear about you guys having to drop Wayside. Does this mean I can drop by and visit more often? Maybe teach a class or two! Martial arts or baking? Pax Christi.

  4. I can see why you are a little sad about leaving such a school but it looks and sounds like you are doing an incredible job. You gave up coffee? I am so impressed!!! I am doing my first juice fast in March and plan to give it up for that, who knows maybe I will give it up for good:))

    Your home looks peaceful, your children look oh so happy and your Rhythm seems MAGICAL! Hats off to you! ~ Barefoot mama

    1. Goodness, thank you!

      But remember what I said about toothpaste on the mirror. I don't take pictures of that.

      Good luck with the juice fast! I'm trying one in March too! I recommend getting off coffee very, very's powerful stuff.

  5. Jonathon PembertonJanuary 26, 2012 at 1:54 AM

    Mary, you need to write a book. I find your writing quite captivating, and you have an excellent attention to detail. I'm glad you realized there was nothing to fear about teaching your offspring. Btw I'm stealing your idea for counting numbers. Lachy might pick it up easier using peanuts and raisins.

  6. Mary, what an inspirational post. I've been feeling the homeschool itch but I'm not sure if I'm ready to jump through all the legal tape (it's barely legal here, and a certified teacher would have to oversee it). Going to grade one involves a whole evaluation, and we were feeling a bit of stress over it last week, trying to make the right decision for Miriam. (Homework every day in grade one - yippee! not.)

    Anyway, what you said about finding your own rhythm seems so right. Hats off to you!

  7. Here in nz homeschooling sounds as if it involves lots of work for parents - proving that you are effectively providing the same education as schools - our kids legally must attend school from age six to sixteen although virtually all start at five. Your days sound fantastic, I am loving our days like this over our summer but in two weeks my girl starts school and although it's a great school I'm not looking forward to it although she is! Do you any legal/education obligations you have to meet ?

    1. Oh hi! I replied in my email, but I'm replying here too in case anyone else wants to know.

      As far as I know there are no legal obligations to meet, though individual school boards are still known to hassle home schoolers.

      Once upon a time, social workers would show up at your door if you hadn't enrolled your kids in school. Now home schooling has gained enough momentum (and numbers) to be accepted. Home schooled students are sought after college applicants, I'm told.

      You are legally obliged to provide an education for your child, but there is a broad spectrum of educational choices.

      There are so many resources and curricula available now. Doing correspondence courses and hooking up with a home school group is a great way of making it work.

      I keep records, just in case!

  8. I will definitely have to come back to this in a couple years, or just get you to talk at me for an hour about all your experiences and wisdom you've gained. It sounds like you've read some Alfie Kohn? Your discussion of grading as an inappropriate way of assessing a child's ability reminds me of what he says.

  9. Thank you for sharing! I found your blog by coinsidence and am really happy I did. I will pin your post on my pinterest board so that I can come back to this later. I haven't really seriously thought about home schooling but I think there is a lot of good ideas here just for the ordinary days at home.

    1. I'm glad you found me too! Yes, home schooling is more a state of mind, than a curriculum, and you can adapt the principles to your "home days" with your little ones.

      You have a lovely blog, too! You Finns are so stylish!